November Rains Grief and Walks Through Wet Oak Leaves, Part 5
My memory guides me through Holy Cross Cemetery in November even though I live far away from my brothers’ final resting place.
This stroll is like an underground railroad to spiritual freedom. The memory of my brothers brings hope that I will see God someday, in full view.
I hope I am on the right train.
I mine this underworld with gratitude.
This stroll becomes for me an act of art.
They were human, carrying both foibles and gifts. Now, we cannot change outcomes. We cannot change those who were fired from jobs or simply overlooked for promotions. We cannot wish that grace would have softened them or offered them forgiveness. We can’t change one sentence of a homily once given.
What happened has happened. I love that.
Somehow their gifts rise to the surface to meet others and me along the wet grass as we pray, especially in November. Their vocations still form us, like good art.
Fr. Bill’s voice still echoes in the silence of gravesites. His Irish-tenor, operatic voice will praise heaven for all eternity as his students still sing on earth.
I am amazed how memory brings voices to the surface within me.
I also love how his struggles with addiction helped form his faith. His pain gave him something even deeper to sing about.
Fr. Gene’s god-like, singing voice proclaimed the resurrection of Christ Jesus during Easter Vigil’s at Notre Dame for many years. When he sang, his clear voice pierced hearts and focused our attention that Easter heralded hope well after death.
During one Easter Vigil, I was a server as a student. His voice flowed over me and through me to God and to the congregation while his hands trembled in fear.
He was an artist and yet full of worry and stage freight.
When I squint my memory, I still see him as God, the Father, with his tall frame and straight shoulders, his salt and pepper beard and groomed, perfect hair. He is one of the people who initiated me into how to pray in public with beauty and deep faith.
I wish I had his hair.
Angels will stop and listen to Fr. Gene. I am convinced of this.
Another artist has left images of angels in glass and concrete. Fr. Tony, a painter, sculptor and teacher of art, left a mark of heaven in the chapel at Moreau Seminary. In fact, it is a full wall of heavenly hosts.
The think, dark glass protects worshipers from the morning sun, and the angel images protect us in our vocations.
These windows remain as one of his most impressive works. The images are two-stories high. There is not one student at the seminary since 1957 that has not prayed under the wings of these heavenly creatures.
I remember well when I was faced with decisions about my future while I was a student; I sought out these angels for guidance and protection.
I am confident those angels even helped me pass a few exams.
Fr. Tony’s art helped me become Fr. Ron.
After all these years, I now realize his art also helped me find my voice as a priest. Art is the courage to express our true belief, our varied experiences and our unique relationship with God.
I wish I could have coffee with Fr. Tony now. I have so much I want to ask him about his art and his life as an artist. He never wanted to speak of those things while he was on earth. I tried.
Now he has time to think about it all.
Now he is in the protection of the real angels of heaven. He is in full light.
Fr. Jim was a student while the angels were first being built in the seminary wall. He did a lot of heavy lifting to assist their completion. He also became an artist and teacher at Notre Dame.
Fr. Jim and I spoke often of his work while I was in graduate school. He had been commissioned to create a life-size seated Madonna and Child for a chapel in Jerusalem.
I would stop by his studio between classes. I watched him create a clay model of a woman after she sat for him while he photographed her. Chicken wire and wood provided a base. His creative hand carved a mother and child in clay.
I watched him create the faces of Jesus and Mary with earth and water.
I asked him one day, “Jim, how do you do that?”
He replied, holding a small tool in his hand, “It’s easy. You just take away what doesn’t belong there.”
I still listen to him as I search for Jesus’ face.
The procession to the cemetery is not just to bury one of my brothers.
The walk is so that our bodies will always remember.
The procession is art and poetry within our souls, from an underworld of love.
I remember most the Holy Cross men who were artists. I guess it is because much of their art is still on earth. I want to believe they are still helping us all create.
I have to believe this.
These holy men are still showing us the potential of life. Not only with clay and charcoal, with their music and voices, but with their lives.
These men are still forming us in faith.
They are still showing us how to be creative. Through art, peace will flourish. Through art, hope will find a home and there will be no more room for violence.
Art overrides our clumsy ways. Art forms justice, if we are courageous enough to find our true voices.
Architects and Designers… Praise the Lord.
Painters and Visual Artists…Praise the Lord.
Tenors and Pianists…Praise the Lord.
Sculptors and Metal Smiths…Praise the Lord.
Preachers and Teachers…Praise the Lord.
Writers and Poets…Praise the Lord.
Vocalists and Authors…Praise the Lord.
Finger Painters and Abstractionists…Praise the Lord.
All Artists and Believers, Living and Deceased…Praise the Lord.